Grudge! That word jumped out at me as it was read in Mark’s gospel at today’s liturgy. I have heard stories of grudges between families and individuals. The stories are never good. I know of one family that for almost 20 years has been damaged by a grudge over the worth of family property. Three members of that large family have isolated themselves from all the other relatives. They never communicate. It is as if the rest of the family had died! There are many causes of grudges, but they all seem to involve unforgiveness or anger or ambitious rivalry. Words are usually exchanged. Emotions come into play.
In Mark 17-29, we learn that John the Baptist has told Herod that it is unlawful for him to have his brother’s wife, Herodias. For that, John is imprisoned by Herod even though Herod enjoyed listening to John’s preaching. Herod promised Herodias’s daughter her heart’s desire after her delightful dance; that is when grudge-ridden Herodias suggested that her daughter ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod had to keep his word!
If we hold a grudge, we try to punish the person with whom we are at odds. We really are punishing ourselves by holding on to anger or resentment. In the Lord's Prayer, we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we hold a grudge, we take back our part of the proposed deal with God. Somehow, we might righteously think that if we hold onto a grudge, the object of our anger gets what he or she deserves: the loss of our love or attention. We, however, miss out on the possibilities of satisfying interactions with that person. The grudge can take on a life of its own and be “in charge.”
I suggest that we try to turn grudges into nudges—that is, nudges to bring love into challenging situations. Deflate the grudge balloons! Pray about any situation that tempts us to hold onto anger; ask the Holy Spirit to shine a new revealing light to help us see other sides to the story. We might take a small step and start a conversation about something else upon which everyone does agree. Do a little. charitable work of mercy together. Recall a happy event we have shared and give thanks to God together. Invite conversation and possible new avenues of joint effort.
Remember that grudge-holding is bad-example-giving to others. Diffuse the emotional buildup while remembering past joys.
Psalm 51:12-14 is a good forgiveness prayer:
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your holy spirit take not from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.